Menorah tradition changes with secular holiday tree lighting.
Members of the Jewish community are upset about the lack of
a menorah at the Holiday Tree Lighting Sunday night in Stevenson Ranch. The
homeowners association, which puts on the event, chose a secular approach this
year, angering some Jewish residents and prompting an internet storm of alleged
discrimination by event organizers.
Greg Waugh, the president of the Stevenson Ranch HOA, would
like to make it clear that the tree lit Sunday night was most definitely not a
“It’s a holiday tree. The majority of the people in our
community say it’s a holiday tree that represents everyone in the community.
The board’s position is that it doesn’t represent one denomination or another.
We light that tree in the holiday spirit.”
The event in question was secular, sans any religious
presentations from church leaders. Sheriff’s deputies and fire fighters were
there, along with Santa Claus, because, as Waugh pointed out “every kid wants
to see Santa, whether they’re Christian or Jewish or whatever.”
Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami sees the situation
differently, sending a copy of a neighborhood blog entry written by a former
holiday event organizer to every congregant’s e-mail Wednesday morning, which
the HOA deemed “overreacting.”
“I’m disappointed that they actually felt that we
overreacted,” Blazer said. “He doesn’t understand how upset the community is
that the menorah wasn’t included in the holiday decoration. It’s been part of
the event every year. The reality is clear; he didn’t want to put it up. He can
deal with the consequences.”
Blazer said he received a call Wednesday morning from Waugh,
asking him to call off his congregants.
“His ignorance and arrogance was appalling,” Blazer said. “I
thought he was calling to say they made a mistake and fix the situation, but
that wasn’t the case. If you make a mistake, you take responsibility for it and
fix it, you don’t make lame excuses for it.”
The seven-foot-high menorah was initially paid for by Temple
Beth Ami, which also covered repairs when it was vandalized in 2006. Blazer
said that traditionally, a different Stevenson Ranch family would light a
candle each night during Hanukkah.
“The board is happy to have anyone put up a religious
symbol, we just want them to clear it with us so we only have one symbol for
each denomination,” Waugh said. “There’s a lady who bought a nativity set, she’s
been working on this for months. We told her she could put it up but she just
had to wait until after the tree lighting.”
Waugh said that a majority of the problems stem from a
transfer of event organizers. One former board member oversaw the event for
nearly a decade and stepped back two years ago. When the former organizer asked
Waugh if the menorah was going to be put up, Waugh told him he could put it up
after the event, just like the other resident.
“It’s not like we didn’t ask,” Waugh said. “Jewish people
helped us plan and run the event, and all of them I talked with said they
thought menorahs were more personal and appropriate in their homes.”
Liability is also a primary concern for homeowners’
associations and Stevenson Ranch is no exception.
“The HOA is supportive of every religion that wants to put
something up. If the HOA was to put up the menorah, there would be liability.
If it was vandalized, as it has been in the past, the homeowners association
would be responsible for repairing it,” Waugh said.
“We’re getting complaints from Christian residents who are
upset that we’re not calling it a Christmas tree, that we’re being too
politically correct,” he continued. “We knew no matter what we did, the HOA was
going to be in trouble.”
Blazer said people are still angry.
“The Jewish community is up in arms, I have congregants who
have talked about taking the HOA to court. The issue is that it (the menorah)
was not up for the holiday celebration. The damage is already done.”
Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld of Congregation Beth Shalom chose a more
peaceful approach to the situation.
“I don’t like to look for the worst in a situation,” he
said. “I try not to rush to judgment. I agree that they should have included
the menorah in the celebration, but this can have the effect of opening up
communication and we can discuss the issue. It sounds like it was a mistake,
but now everyone can talk about it.”
Waugh said that by the end of the week, both a nativity
scene and the menorah in question will be on display for the entire community